Anxiety and Public Speaking with Michaela Wain

A few years ago, I was suffering from crippling anxiety. It was having such a negative effect on my life that at one point I only weighed 6 stone. I was constantly stressed, and I had to take a lot of medication to try and make up for the weight that I couldn’t gain. It was so bad that at on some days I was too worried to leave the house.

Since then I have managed to turn my life around in such a way that I am now running 4 companies, have 2 children, have appeared on national television and even partake in public speaking. Here are my top tips on how to bounce back in the same way that I have.

It is important to remember that your attitude towards situations is all a matter of perspective. There is a duality to the feelings you can experience towards any upcoming event in your life. On one hand you could view a big moment coming for you with an overwhelming sense of dread, constantly focusing on what the worst case scenario could be, but on the other hand you could view this event as an upcoming positive experience, focusing on the best case scenario such as the fact that it’s likely that a lot will go to plan and the experience wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad as your anxiety may trick you into thinking.

These days, when I get these negative thoughts, such as the worst-case scenario in experiences such as public speaking, there will be thoughts such as “what if I forget what I’m saying?” Instead of focusing on the embarrassment I may feel and how the audience may think I’m stupid and how I don’t deserve to be on stage (you know, general anxiety that you feel when you’re in the spotlight), I now think, “well I can always just say sorry, I’ve had a long night with my baby and the dreaded teething phase” and then focus on where I was. I can take a breath and gather my thoughts. At the end of the day, the majority of the audience are there to listen to what you have to say. They want you to succeed and they will support you even if you make a mistake. They have most likely come to learn something from me and as a result will focus more on what I have to say than the small mistakes I may make in front of them.

When you’re waiting for the dreaded moment to begin or are even in the middle of it, it’s helpful to remember that this moment won’t last forever and will most likely be over before you know it. Soon you’ll be at home having tea with your family and you’ll never have to worry about that public speaking experience again. When I was on the Apprentice getting support for and promoting We Connect Construction I had the tendency to get myself really worked up before I entered the boardroom. Harrison (a fellow candidate of mine) would always say to me that I should “try to calm down. Remember, you’ll be back at the house soon, all this will be done with and you’ll be looking back at a memory. Right now, you are fine. You’ve planned this moment, so you don’t need to worry about what is going to happen to you.” This really helped me and boosted my confidence in such a positive way that I don’t even think he knows. It reminded me to embrace the moment; the boardroom was coming up but at that moment I was simply in a waiting room with friends and colleagues, all of whom were experiencing the same sort of anxiety I was feeling. And sure enough, my time in the boardroom would be over and I would be back at the house discussing what had been going on with my family.

Before public speaking or a presentation, I make sure I am well prepared, while at the same time not obsessing over every detail. I will have a good idea of what I will be saying and the order I will be talking about the topics in. I don’t like having formal slides and talking in a manner I normally wouldn’t. I keep my talks real to me because the pressure of changing the way I say or do things is simply too much for me to deal with, so now I am super northern and proud. I don’t tend to address my points in the most “professional” manner, but rather in my own “normal, working class” way. I find I put more pressure on myself than most other people tend to and I set myself high expectations and standards with a fear of being judged. Once I relieve that pressure by reassuring myself that I’m fine the way I am it makes my job so much easier.

If I do eve feel a panic attack coming on, I stop my train of thought in its tracks and concentrate on my breathing. It’s a cliché, I know, but it genuinely works! Just stopping the one million negative things flying though your mind and shifting your focus to something else completely will change your chemistry. If you are thinking about your breathing, doing your times tables or even singing your favourite song then it’s impossible to focus on all the bad thoughts you have. Give it a try.

If I’m feeling a little stressed or unlike myself, I will make sure I go to the gym, go for a walk or visit someone, just to get out of the office or the house. Being out in the fresh air is a kind of medicine in itself and seeing friends or family will help you stop worrying both physically and subconsciously about any issues you may have.

This brings me on to my next point, worrying about what people think about me. Unfortunately, no matter who we are, what we do and where we are from there will always be someone somewhere wanting to call you out for your differences or shortcomings. It’s just a fact of life. The best thing I have learnt to do is to stop taking everything people say so personally. I find these days that I will only get offended by such comments if they come from someone who I know, who know me personally or who I respect. If they are upset or disagree with what I’m saying or my actions, I’ll sit back and evaluate it and see if their statement holds any merit. Other than that, I tend to not let myself care that much. Now that I’m not offended by people or the internet or the opinions some journalists may have of me or people who try to compete with me, my life has become much less stressful.

I would also say work on your confidence. If you are confident in yourself and your ability, confident in the message you are putting across and your presentation then there isn’t much to worry about and there isn’t much that can go wrong. Worst case scenario you can always just wing it. Just talk about yourself as you would if you were a friend describing you to someone else; so I would say, she’s a good public speaker, a little too honest at times, she won’t have anyone take the piss, and she will help anyone she can. I remind myself of these qualities frequently and this gives me confidence in my approach to many things. I will think, “Ok, how would I approach this if I was that person?” and then I make my decisions based on this. Sometimes we just have to come across as the best version of ourselves in times when we may be too nervous to be the best version of ourselves.

My final piece of advice would be, just do it! Every time I speak, I am both nervous and excited in equal measures, so I make sure I always I know my first few sentences inside out. I know that once I’ve finished the first few sentences, the rest will come naturally.

These are the tips I’ve built up through my own personal experiences and challenges. Make sure to try out my advice the next time you find yourself in a stressful situation.